Limited mobility is a common reason people rule out exercise. But, if you move less to avoid weakness, pain or other physical limitations, your overall physical condition slowly deteriorates. It’s important to remain as active as possible throughout life, even if that means modifying your exercise routine. A practical solution for many people is to exercise while seated.
Seated exercise is suitable, if you’re elderly, frail or at risk of falling; if you’re recovering from an injury, illness or surgery; or if you have a physical disability or weight problem. Seated exercise is also suitable for some chronic pain sufferers, such as people with arthritic hips or knees or spinal stenosis. In such cases, sitting can provide temporary relief and allow you to focus on the exercise rather than on the pain.
While it’s common to give up on physical activities when standing is problematic, there are also people who are in denial about their condition and put themselves at risk. Why force yourself through painful exercises that can aggravate your condition when a few modifications can help? Sitting down is in no way an admission of weakness. I view it as a declaration of one’s commitment to work around limitations rather than give in to them. While I’m in favour of challenging oneself, I also advocate being realistic and making safety a high priority. As we age or deal with health issues, we must come to terms with the current capabilities of our bodies. Instead of dwelling on what we can no longer do, we should explore new ways to make the most of what we can do.
I occasionally substitute teach a chair exercise class for seniors. I lead the participants through a series of exercises with light dumbbells, usually two to five pounds. We work on strengthening the entire body. Gentle stretching while sitting is another important component of the class, providing participants with the opportunity to enhance their range of motion. Sometimes we incorporate games such as tossing a ball to one another while sitting. Such games help with eye-hand co-ordination and incorporate the aspect of play reminiscent of youth. Maintaining and increasing strength, balance and flexibility in the later years helps improve quality of life, as do the social connections and interactions that take place in class.
If you’re not at the stage of life for a seniors’ chair exercise class but you have difficulty standing while exercising, you can use a bench at the gym or a chair at home. A chair with arms is helpful, if you have difficulty getting in and out of a chair. It’s important to sit upright with good posture and perform exercises with proper form. Your spine should be in a neutral position with proper curvatures. You can do upper body exercises while sitting, such as bicep curls. You can also do lower body exercises such as leg raises. Many strength-building machines at gyms are designed to be used while sitting. Select an amount of weight on each machine that challenges your muscles, but doesn’t strain or cause pain in your joints. You can get a low-impact cardiovascular workout on a recumbent stationary bicycle. This type of bike has a backrest and is designed for comfort. Some recumbent bikes have movable arms so you can engage your upper body muscles as well as your lower body muscles.
Another type of seated exercise is performed on a large inflatable ball. This is more challenging than exercising while sitting on a chair because the instability of the ball recruits more of your muscles to balance. You can perform many exercises on the ball using just your body or with dumbbells. For example, if you have a weak back you can strengthen your back muscles by raising and lowering your left leg and right heel, then your right leg and left heel while sitting on the ball.
Some people work out from their wheelchair. Unable to stand due to paralysis, missing limbs or frailty, they exercise to the best of their abilities. Though some parts of the body may be missing or non-functioning, exercise stimulates and strengthens the rest of the body and the mind.
At some point, most of us will have to deal with one or more physical difficulties that limit our movements. Determination and some expert advice will help you succeed at finding safe and effective workarounds. Remember that sitting down doesn’t have to mean sitting out.